When I stepped into a classroom yesterday I was so intrigued that I couldn’t leave. Before I spill the beans on what I saw, I must say this. There has been a lot of emphasis at my school about having students share their work for a lesson closing. This idea could also spill over into the common core mathematical practices in which students must “construct viable arguments and construct the reasoning of others”. Now I understand that when students share their work in front of the class that this does promote other students’ higher levels of thinking as other students decide whether they agree or disagree. On the other hand at this late point in the school year the downfall of student sharing is that even with a doc camera and students’ micro phoned voices other students attention spans are likened to a fly hovering over a summer picnic buffet.
Now, onto what I saw. Ms. T was showing students a flip cam video of herself talking to a student named ‘Briana’, who was solving a double digit addition problem with base ten blocks which she had taped during the students’ work time. She showed the video to students after their work time and paused it after the questions she asked Briana in the video. Then Ms. T would ask the class what the answer was to the question in the video. The class would respond. Then Ms. T would un-pause the video to allow the class to see if Briana answered, counted, or exchanged blocks correctly. I absolutely loved this–so much more engaging than regular sharing!
Thanks to the literacy people who ordered these flip cams with literacy money! They were originally bought for students to do book talks. Using them for math sharing–so much better in my unbiased opinion .
I showed the fifth graders that I have been teaching for the past few weeks this page before they tested. I let them know that I was going to be looking for these actions or test taking strategies while they tested. Our principal gave the students extra recess time at the end of the day if they worked hard on the test all morning long. I wanted a way to measure “working hard on the test”, so I used this checklist/rubric. If students did 4 of the 6 actions or testing strategies listed on the sheet, then they were able to have extra recess. Across the top of the page the categories read:
- Underlined Key Words
- Brain Dumped– Writing important information down on the math reference sheet that they may forget
- Eliminated Wrong Answers (on multiple choice)
- Used P.E.C.E (an acronym that stands for using a picture, equation, complete sentence, and elaboration to solve an open response)
- Persevered When Problem Solving
- Checked Work or Used the Entire Time to Work
If you would like to use this form, you can download it for free here. I am posting it in Word format so that you can open it and change the wording to suit your needs.
1. Teach students to “Brain Dump”. As soon as students are allowed to begin their test, tell them to write everything down that they worked hard to remember, but are afraid that they might forget during the course of the test. Our state tests give students a math reference sheet, card stock rulers and pattern blocks. Students could write other formulas down on their reference sheet, write the name of the pattern blocks on the pattern blocks, and write the fractional measurements on their rulers. If your state doesn’t provide students with these materials, then they may provide them scratch paper, or they may be allowed to write in the test booklet itself. Students could “brain dump” in these areas.
2. Have a Mathlete’s Challenge. To give students a break from the mundane multiple choice test prep and practice, allow them to work in pairs to discuss which answers are correct. Give the top three student pairs a prize for answering the most questions correctly. The competition helps keep the students focused on the task. Students get the benefit of discussing with their partners which answer is correct. Allow students to move to a quiet corner of the room to work in their pairs. Remind them that because this is a competition, they need to work quietly so that no one steals their answers.
3. Weeks before the test make vocabulary or spelling lists based on most often used language in test questions. Your list might include words such as represent, approximately, elaborate, explain, outline, trace, support etc.
4. Time students like they will be timed when taking their real state tests. Allow students to see the timer as the minutes pass by to help them pace themselves.
5. Practice bubbles. Make sure students are bubbling in the whole bubble. Practice bubbling in bubbles darkly.
6. Practice using the calculator. If students are allowed to use calculators, make sure they know that they are smarter than the calculator and that the calculator is only a tool. For example, many students may have difficulty inputting money in the calculator. Instead of typing 0.50 for 50 cents, students type 50 and then add 1.50 for a dollar and fifty cents. Then they get the wrong answer. Students also build a misconception around the calculator showing 0.5 and thinking that the calculator is showing them that they have 5 cents and not 50 cents.
Another common misconception students have is when they are dividing numbers. Students tend to misread the number behind the decimal as the remainder. On a recent test, I noticed that many students saw 29 and divided it by 5 only to read 5.8 on their calculator screen. Many of the students wrote that the answer was 5 with 8 leftover (as a remainder) in the word problem.
7. Eat a peppermint candy. Peppermint oil is excellent for mental fatigue and depression, refreshing the spirit and stimulating mental agility and improving concentration. It helps for apathy, shock, headache, migraine, nervous stress according to this website. We always give students a few peppermints during testing to give them an extra boost.
I learned this tip from a fellow teacher. Pick the current heart throb or popular personality for your grade level. For example, if all of the kids have Bieber fever, then simply find an 8 x 10 or larger picture of Justin Beiber. Post Justin in an out of the way corner of your classroom. When students start pointing or blaming another student with their tattle, then simply say, “Go tell Justin.” More mature students will find this absurd while the usual tattlers will eventually feel absurd as well since their peers will think they look silly talking to a picture. For young children stuffed animals work as well.
If you have been teaching any time at all, you have multiple Christmas ornaments and other assorted Christmas trinkets from your precious little ones, who are so proud to bring you a wrinkly, wrapped Christmas package. One particular year a student brought me the yellow, glass ball pictured above which beckons the memories of one particular student–Christopher. His sandy, blond hair nearly dangled into his brown eyes. Christopher was intelligent, however he was one of those students when called upon who says, “oh, huh?”. I constantly had to redirect his attention to class discussions and to complete his work. During class one April day after testing I inquired of the class how many feet were in a mile. I must have called on at least 10 students letting them at least have a guess, but none of them coming anywhere close. When I called on Christopher, he said, “5,280″.
I asked, “Wow, Chris, how did you know that?”
He explained, “That chart you used to have there, “ pointing underneath the white board.
The chart Chris was speaking of was one that had been taken down because of testing. I had not put the chart back up, and the writing was very small for him to see from where he was sitting.
I tell this story over and over to teachers to let them know the power of anchor charts on their walls. Students must look somewhere when they are bored and tired of listening to the drone of the teacher’s voice, so they might as well absorb learning from their walled environment. Christopher’s ornament reminds me of this powerful lesson he taught me every time I pull it from the wrinkled tissue it’s wrapped in.
Does this sound familiar? You are surprised when you look up to see the clock shows that you only have 9 minutes to pass out end of the day papers, close your lesson, to have children to clean their desks, to have children get their backpacks, and line up in an orderly fashion. You look at the floor and think the custodian will groan will he comes to your room. You think you don’t have any time to have the children clean the classroom floor, but that’s because you have never played “I Spy” the trash version! I learned this antic from a P.E. teacher.
The teacher says, “The person who gets the piece of trash I spy gets_______ (you fill in the blank–a treat or prize?). You have 30 (etc.) seconds. Go!”
Students then frantically look for pieces of trash and try to figure out what piece of trash you see. Don’t stop the game until the classroom floor looks as clean as you desire. Students will ask you if they found the piece of trash you spied, but don’t stop the game until you get the floor clean. Sometimes I tell students that I spied another piece of trash if I want to spur on more meticulous trash gathering. If you have a group of children that aren’t well managed this game can become rambunctious, but I have found that if you have high expectations and procedures with the rest of your day students will stay focused on trash finding. This game is fun for both the students and the teacher.
Do you know a teacher who has his or her classroom very well behaved no matter what crop of children they receive? Nearly every child is following directions in these classrooms for the majority of the school year. You could walk into these classrooms later in the year and wonder what their secret is. The secret lies in the first few days and weeks of school. The first few days of school are SO crucial. If a teacher allows and ignores whispering in the hallway now, then students will be yelling in the hallway by Christmas. You must “nip it in the bud” my college professor once told me. If students don’t do EXACTLY what you want the first few days of school, you must make them practice it over and over again until you get EXACTLY the behaviors you desire.
I was so proud of my novice teacher today! I mean smiling 1000 watt smile with all of my teeth showing on the inside. I had a long talk with her on the phone before our first day of school. I reminded her to practice every single procedure until she got the desired behavior she was looking for. I also told her to be specific about every detail when she explained each procedure.
In our conversation I said “Remember every behavior that got on your nerves last year,”.
She said, “mhum.”
I posed this question to her, “What happens when your rule is “STAY IN YOUR SEATS” and a child drops his or her crayons box? All of the students’ eyes follow the spewing of crayons while you are teaching. About six little feet patter across the floor to “help” the poor student who has just dropped the entire contents of his precious school box. You stand there not knowing whether to warn these “helpers” since they were only “helping” or thank them because they were assisting their peers.”
To hold students accountable for every action, a great teacher has foreseen the inevitable behavior of children and will address these actions before they happen. If a situation arises that hasn’t been addressed, the teacher will make a learning experience from it.
So, the reason for my 1000 watt smile : D is that my novice teacher was doing all of these things exactly like we discussed. As I walked in her room today I was so impressed of how she was having her students practice every procedure until they mastered it to her standards! She quickly dished out consequences for inappropriate behavior, and all children were attentive! I could take veteran teachers in her room into learn from such a model classroom! BRAVO!
As I mentioned before, specific procedures are critical to a successful classroom. Each time of the day has different procedures, for example, math workshop time. Do students know what to do when they gather on the carpet, what to do with manipulatives, how to work in cooperative groups, how to speak during their work time, and what to do when they need help? If students are given norms in these areas, then the teacher’s time is maximized for instructional purposes instead of behavior management. Below is another photo from the classroom I visited for a lesson study. I like how this teacher’s expectations are clear for carpet time in this poster.
At this point in the year, most of us are acquiring sore muscles from moving furniture around and deciding how to arrange our desks. While moving your furniture, have you considered your traffic flow? Can you easily see each student’s desk when you walk in a complete loop around your room ? Arranging the room in a loop allows you to walk around the entire room easily enjoying proximity to monitor students work and off task behavior. If students are seated without the teacher being able to easily circle the room, often times some are left out when materials or papers are passed out because of the disjointed traffic Where is your door located? the pencil sharpener? book bag storage? paper trays? All of these factors determine how many possible distractions there are in the classroom. Fred Jones’ book Tools for Teaching has two chapters entitled Working the Crowd and Arranging the Room. These are excellent chapters which have taught me to be aware of the above factors to room arranging. Most schools have a copy of Fred Jones’ book in their professional library. There are a few pictures of his seating arrangements from the book online that may be of help if you don’t have access to his book.